Hazards and Nuisances Including Site Safety and Noise


This category addresses whether a project’s location and design reduce natural and man-made risks to people or property damage for both the public or project users. Refer to Important Considerations for a list of common hazards.

Many of these hazards may be subject to municipal regulation. Local zoning, building, and health codes usually address maintenance and cleanliness. Their enforcement is often independent of environmental assessment procedures.

The environmental assessment should include those areas which are not covered by code requirements. Proper siting, sound planning, and good project design can correct many of these issues. The assessment should also ensure that low- and moderate- income and minority communities do not bear an outsized risk of such hazards and nuisances.

Mitigation measures can also be included as integral components of a proposed project’s design (e.g., seismic resistance. engineering designs, fire protection, and/or flood elevation or proofing) and can be implemented with the proposed project.

Important Considerations

  1. Will the project be affected by any of the following hazards?

Natural hazards, including, but not limited to:

  • Earthquakes—faults, fracture
  • Volcanoes
  • Landslides
  • Fire-prone areas
  • Droughts
  • Floods from weather events
  • Cliffs, bluffs, crevices
  • Wind/sandstorm concerns
  • Hazardous terrain
  • Poisonous plants, insects, animals

Air pollution generators, including, but not limited to:

  • Heavy industry
  • Incinerators
  • Power-generating plants
  • Rendering plants
  • Fugitive dust
  • Cement plants
  • Large parking facilities (1000 or more cars)
  • Heavily travelled highway (6 or more lanes)
  • Oil refineries

Man-made site hazards, including, but not limited to:

  • Recreational areas located next to a freeway or other high traffic way
  • Dangerous intersection
  • Inadequate separation of pedestrian/vehicle traffic
  • Hazardous cargo transportation routes
  • Unfenced railroads or highways
  • Unfenced water bodies
  • Unfenced construction sites
  • Shadows
  • Inadequate street lighting
  • Uncontrolled access to lakes and streams
  • Improperly screened drains or catchment areas
  • Quarries or other excavations
  • Dumps/sanitary landfills or mining
  • Reclaimed phosphate land (radioactive)
  • Hazards in vacant lots
  • Chemical tank-car terminals
  • Other hazardous chemical storage
  • High-pressure gas or liquid petroleum transmission lines on site
  • Overhead transmission lines
  • Oil or gas wells
  • Industrial operations
  • Gas, smoke, or fumes
  1. Will the project be affected by any of the following nuisances?

Nuisances, including, but not limited to:

  • Gas, smoke, fumes
  • Odors
  • Vibration
  • Glare from lighting from industrial or commercial uses or parking lots
  • Vacant/boarded-up buildings
  • Unsightly land uses
  • Abandoned vehicles
  • Vermin infestation
  1. Is the project itself a noise-generating facility in a noise-sensitive area, such as a site in close proximity to schools and housing?

Analysis Techniques

Earthquake or Volcanic Activity: Use the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) Seismic Risk Maps and HUD Minimum Property Standards to determine seismic risks associated with the project area. USGS Earthquake Hazards website is also a good resource.

If the project is within 0.5 miles of an active fault, obtain the review and opinion of an engineer. Make sure to meet the design requirements in HUD Minimum Property Standards. A seismologist can provide additional information as to the extent of the risk.

Use USGS Lava Zone Hazard Zones to understand Lava risks in Hawaii. In the 1970s, HUD first developed a volcanic hazard policy in consultation with the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Geologic Survey. A report, Volcanic Hazards on the Island of Hawaii, was commissioned to inform HUD’s policy decisions and was based on the best available scientific and technical information. In 1991, the Volcanic Hazard Policy was revised based upon updated information provided by USGS. In 2006, HUD responded to a letter from the mayor of Hawaii to re-iterate HUD’s policy of non-participation in the volcano lava flow areas 1 and 2 on the island of Hawaii.

Floods, Tornadoes, Hurricanes, Tsunamis: Flood risks are primarily addressed under Executive Order 11988—Floodplain Management, which is part of the Related Laws and Authorities section of the environmental review process and is explained in more detail in the Web-Based Instructional System for Environmental Review (WISER): Water Elements module on HUD Exchange. However, natural disasters such as hurricanes and tsunamis can produce storm surges that pose the greatest threat to life and property along the coast. These coastal threats often lead to severe flood risks and can also produce tornadoes. They should also be considered in the context of sea level rise due to climate change. To determine if the project is in risk zones for these hazards, consult the following sources:

Maps of areas subject to tsunamis are generally available from local jurisdictions, where applicable. If these hazards are present, consult a structural engineer to determine the type and extent of precautions or mitigation measures that may be necessary.

Forest and Range Fires: Contact local fire departments to determine whether the project area is currently, or may soon become, susceptible to forest or range fires. If so, consult with the fire department and local weather service authorities to determine which factors create a potential for fire hazards. Some state agencies may also publish fire hazards maps (e.g., CALFIRE in California).

Mudslides, Sands, and Hazardous Terrain Features: Through field observation, area soils maps, and consultation with local flood insurance personnel, local weather bureaus, and the NRCS soils data, determine whether:

  • The site or adjacent area contains slopes with unconsolidated loose soils (i.e., a type of light windborne soil)
  • The area is subject to extensive rainfall that could cause mudslides
  • The site contains soil materials prone to exhibit liquefaction (such as quicksand)

Man-made Site Hazards: Man-made hazards are hazards caused by human action or inaction. These types of hazards can have an adverse impact on humans, other organisms, biomes, and ecosystems. The frequency and severity of man-made hazards are key elements in some risk analysis methodologies.

For dangerous intersections or inadequate street lighting, consider including consultation with city planning offices to determine access and safety infrastructure improvements that are or could be planned to support the development and additional foot traffic generated.

For attractive nuisances on or near the project site, analysis techniques may include reviewing the site plan to ensure that access between resident areas and nuisances is separated (e.g., fences to prevent kids from climbing into detention areas).

For vacant lots, analysis techniques may include determining whether code enforcement can be engaged to abate vacant lot hazards (e.g., trash piles).

Additional Considerations

Local zoning and health and building codes apply to many of these categories. States may have building codes, hazard maps, and other regulations or tools related to hazards and nuisances.

HUD’s Minimum Property Standards also address site hazards, but they apply only to projects funded through Office of Housing programs.

Communities should incorporate any expected change or increase in risk resulting from climate change over a project’s expected lifespan or a 30-year time horizon.

Mitigation Measures

Most mitigation measures to avoid or guard against the various problems cited above involve appropriate project planning and design such as setbacks, site reclamation, or avoidance of known hazardous sites.

HUD’s Community Resilience Toolkit covers actions communities can take to mitigate against natural hazards, including extreme heat, wildfires, and droughts.

Resources to Reference/Experts to Contact

  • Federal or State Geological Survey
  • Seismologist or Volcanologist
  • District Officers of the Army Corps of Engineers or FEMA
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which maintains a list of the most hazardous (toxic) waste sites, the National Priorities List (NPL) (Office of the Superfund) in the State, Tribal, and Local Hazard Mitigation Plans, and FEMA’s Hazus program
  • HUD – Community Resilience Toolkit
  • State and local Emergency Management Agencies
  • State and local Floodplain Managers
  • State and local Departments of Environment and Public Health
  • Local Fire Departments